May 10, 2021
9 As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you; abide in my love. 10 If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. 11 I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete.
12 “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.13 No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.14 You are my friends if you do what I command you. 15 I do not call you servantsany longer, because the
servantdoes not know what the master is doing; but I have called you friends, because I have made known to you everything that I have heard from my Father. 16 You did not choose me but I chose you. And I appointed you to go and bear fruit, fruit that will last, so that the Father will give you whatever you ask him in my name. 17 I am giving you these commands so that you may love one another.
What does Jesus’ love look like? Oftentimes I’m asked at weddings to read the “love chapter” found in 1 Corinthians 13. It has beautiful poetry, but it’s not about love between two persons…no one can love that way except for God. It’s a chapter describing perfect love, sit back, close your eyes, soak in these words as if God is speaking directly to you:
13 If I speak in the tongues of mortals and of angels, but do not have love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. 2 And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. 3 If I give away all my possessions, and if I hand over my body so that I may boast,but do not have love, I gain nothing.
4 Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant 5 or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; 6 it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. 7 It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.
8 Love never ends. But as for prophecies, they will come to an end; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will come to an end. 9 For we know only in part, and we prophesy only in part; 10 but when the complete comes, the partial will come to an
end. 11 When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child; when I became an adult, I put an end to childish ways. 12 For now we see in a mirror, dimly,but then we will see face to face. Now I know only in part; then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known. 13 And now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love.
Wow. And, this is what Jesus is saying to us. Live, or abide, remain in my love. Jesus isn’t going anywhere, as a matter of fact, Jesus is present with us, right now…as we sit in our homes or in these pews, wondering what’s going to happen next in this pandemic, what is the new “normal”, we are not alone. Jesus is with us…and is chasing after us…won’t give up on us.
One of my best friends in my twenties was Jay. I’ve talked about him before. Jay was simply amazing. Great athlete, musician, lots of charisma, looked like James Dean. His family had owned the patent to frozen yeast and also owned several bakeries throughout the world. He seemingly had it made. Yet, underneath, he was deeply struggling with the death of his dad in his teenage years and his mom’s impending death during much of our 20’s through MS.
He was a Young Life leader, but after a while, quit that, left the church, and went into a season of life trying to numb himself of the pain.
Jay and I still got together, he was one of my best friends. But, there was a period of a few months where we weren’t around each other. We got together for dinner with a friend and he leaned over to me and told me, “I’m back”. He went on to say that he simply could not get away from God. That God kept on chasing him even when he was so numb from whatever he was using and whoever he was using. God’s love broke through. I believe that God’s love was even more real and deeper during Jay’s season of numbness.
Years later, Jay continues to cultivate an understanding of love and grace. His legacy, friendship, and love for others bears so much fruit. Honestly, I’m standing here the person that I am in many ways because of Jay.
Jesus was and is present with each of us. It’s hard, I know, especially in this season of disruption to recognize that…but when we begin to move towards understanding ourselves, asking the really hard questions and confronting the things in our lives that prevent us from experiencing the depth in knowing who we are and who God, we can begin to truly be present with ourselves, others, and God. We begin to experience love.
I had a different spiritual director for a long time, Todd Long, before my present spiritual director, Father Richard Bollmer. Both of them have been great reminders to me of what it means to practice being present with my stuff and with God and others. Also, making sure that I take time to go and meditate, unplug, rest, and simply be either at home, in my office, or in special places like the Abbey of Gethsemani in KY.
One of the disciplines that they have encouraged me with is to cultivate loving presence through “obedience”. Jesus, in this morning’s passage commands us to love God. An act of obedience is to love, and to love well. As we do that, we begin to understand deeply that Jesus is truly our friend and that leads to other friendships.
Friendship means a lot to me. I am committed to folks and I want and need that commitment from them. As your pastor, I have made a commitment in my vows to be your friend. And, in your vows when you called me here, you committed to be my friend. As I’ve stated before, church is not a business, and it’s not just a family, it’s a family business with deep roots.
As I practice friendship, sometimes in beautifully messy ways! I find that our friendships leads towards common good and growth. Many of my friends in this city and around the world are all working towards seeing goodness happen in communities with the church being at the center of that…being a place of generosity and momentum towards others and each other.
We trust each other, deeply. Many of these friends speak for me and I for them. That trust is also happening here and we’re seeing the fruit of it in many ways already.
Sometimes we may think that we’d like to simply shirk away from friendship, from being present. Yet, as we read this morning, God says to us, you didn’t choose this friendship, I chose you. I think that says so much about God…a practical takeaway from what I’m sharing is this…YOU are loved, God is present with you, cultivate that understanding, and know that God desires for the best for you…and for this church.
I think that’s why I’m so confident about what we are about at Fleming Road UCC. I don’t know what the future holds, I don’t know what church will look like after this pandemic, but I know that we are here, present with one another and that we are together in this and will grow and change. We will move towards a great story…Jesus says again in this week’s passage that he will give us whatever we ask for! It’s interesting that Jesus said this in last week’s passage and now again this week…And, here we are, we are in this liminal space, this threshold in culture, and as a church, and as persons! We live in “apocalyptic” times…folks often think that means the end of the world, all of it…no, it’s simply a term that says that some things are ending in order to make room for something new to emerge..over time. And, in God, and in God’s love, we can place our faith in that it will be good for us and for others.
Believe it…accept it. Receive this love and bear fruit! And, remember these words:
Jesus embodies this love, Jesus is here, present with you through his spirit the Holy Spirit, that connects all of us and all of this…and ultimately keeps us firmly in friendship with God.
May we love one another and our neighbors (which means everyone) well!
May 3, 2021
15 “I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinegrower. 2 He removes every branch in me that bears no fruit. Every branch that bears fruit he prunesto make it bear more fruit. 3 You have already been cleansed by the word that I have spoken to you. 4 Abide in me as I abide in you. Just as the branch cannot bear fruit by itself unless it abides in the vine, neither can you unless you abide in me. 5 I am the vine, you are the branches. Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit, because apart from me you can do nothing. 6 Whoever does not abide in me is thrown away like a branch and withers; such branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned. 7 If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask for whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. 8 My Father is glorified by this, that you bear much fruit and becomemy disciples.
A few weeks ago, I was running by the church one morning. It was the day that folks came to take down the tree in the front of the church. It was quite the operation. Neighbors of our church, a young family, were watching. I stopped to talk to them as we have met a few times before. They asked about the tree, I told them it was dead and that it needed to come down. They asked what we would replace it with. I told them I didn’t know. As the conversation went on, I shared with them a vision from some members of our church of starting a community garden on our property somewhere…they responded with, “if y’all ever do that, we are in, we’d love to help as we love to garden!”
Debbie, my amazing spouse, also loves to garden. We have a small garden bed next to our house, as well as flower gardens around the house (which we try to keep our dogs out of!). The other day, when I came back from my run, Debbie was working in the garden with a young neighbor friend of ours, Aniya. This young girl simply loved getting her hands dirty and being with Debbie.
It’s safe to say, that gardens are great metaphors and images.
In our passage this morning, the imagery of God as a master gardener speaks to us as a beautiful metaphor. God has given us life and cultivates us to be the best versions of ourselves, beautiful creations. God even plants himself into humanity. Jesus, Immanuel, God with us. Jesus is often called the “seed” of humanity, and that seed grows or works its way throughout humanity, producing much good and beauty in each of us.
The metaphor of Jesus being the vine, the connection, the bridge if you will between humanity and God…really, is in Jesus’ entire being. Jesus is the “word” that’s been given to us as mentioned in this passage, the expression of God. The one that we are called to follow. The one who’s vine we are the branches.
The master gardener prunes, works on us, takes away the things that make us dead. Sometimes that pruning, or the literal Greek in this text is “taking away”, can hurt. We don’t like it when we are told that we need to change, that we need to grow. We create habits for getting by that may get us through the day, or even years, but really aren’t healthy or helpful to others around us. We have pride, we have insecurities.
That’s not only true of each of us, but it’s also true of us collectively as a community and as a church. When I read or hear some of the things on Next Door Finneytown, or talk to other faith leaders across our neighborhood and the city, or listen to business owners or civic leaders, I hear a lot. Sometimes, honestly, there can be some who play something like middle school politics, but it’s more “grown up”. I also see it within our churches and families. We often get into places relationally with each other that simply don’t move us or others forward towards growth.
We need to be loved on by a master gardener, and cultivate a desire to be with the master gardener…and to be outside, with people, in this master Gardner’s garden…the world! That love that the master gardner has for us also means pruning some of the things away that are ugly in order for us to see within ourselves, others, the church, and our neighbors that true beauty that we are.
It’s been pretty obvious for us as a church, community, country, and world, that this pandemic has been a time of pruning, even lament, yet it is producing growth.
How do we cultivate this way of life where we can see the growth? By remaining in Christ, connected to the vine. This passage is an imperative in the Greek in verse 4. Jesus is stating emphatically to remain in him. Then he says that he will remain in us. This is not a cause and effect statement, or a transactional statement. Jesus is saying that he will remain in us, period. His presence with us is not conditional. He does say though to us, to remain in him. To be connected, to be willing to grow and be beautiful for yourself and for others. I also like the translation, “abide”. We are to abide with Christ and Christ abides with us.
If we remain in Jesus, if we follow the trajectory of his words and his life, we seen a radical inclusion of all of our stuff inside of us and outside of us. A radical inclusion that means that we are loved unconditionally, and those around us, no matter where they are in life, are also to be included.
That can be messy. You have seen it in our relationships, and if you haven’t, you will some day!! I am a fairly solid and mostly competent pastor to Fleming Road UCC (most days), but I also make mistakes, and I certainly don’t have all of the answers. And, our church has made tons of mistakes over the centuries of our mutual existence in the three churches merged into one. None of us have all of the answers, that’s why it’s imperative that we remain in Christ, and remain connected to him and conversely with each other, we can be pruned, we can own our mistakes and lean in on grace, and grow together into a beautiful part of the vineyard here in Cincinnati.
And, we will bear much fruit in the process…we already have! Live into that, live into God, as God lives in you!!!
Taking yesterday’s sermon and (attempting) to put it into a video podcast!
10 The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.
11 “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. 12 The hired hand, who is not the shepherd and does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and runs away—and the wolf snatches them and scatters them. 13 The hired hand runs away because a hired hand does not care for the sheep. 14 I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, 15 just as the Father knows me and I know the Father. And I lay down my life for the sheep. 16 I have other sheep that do not belong to this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd. 17 For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life in order to take it up again. 18 No one takes[a] it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it up again. I have received this command from my Father.”
One of our favorite places to hang out is right down the street from our church, Fibonacci’s Brewery. They have a great outdoor garden to sit in with lights throughout the trees and great fire pits. Wonderful place for conversations. They also have a small farm with beehives, goats, and sheep. Not many, but enough. You can see that it’s a pretty peaceful place.
Sheep are interesting. I’ve shared the story before of our family staying in a huge manor house on an English estate. The house overlooked fields of sheep. The sheep would go from one field to the next throughout the day.
I tell you this because our passages this morning are about sheeps and shepherds. I read once that you cannot very easily approach sheep…they are sheepish if you will. They aren’t easy to heard either, unless you are their shepherd. Shepherds, especially in Jesus’ time, spent a lot of time with sheep. Shepherds had a way of gathering sheep, by simply calling them out. Sheep will follow the shepherd because they recognize the shepherd’s voice. They trust that voice.
In this passage, we are sheep, you and I together. It’s obviously a metaphor, but much like the beauty of the landscape at Penshurst, that English estate, and Fibonacci’s, we are live together in a beautiful world. We also produce a lot of smelly and messiness. Our relationships with each other are filled with craziness at times, we don’t always follow or lead each other well. There are dangers around us, and sometimes there are other forces out there, thieves such as depression, loneliness, selfishness, pride, or addictions, or folks not being the best version of themselves, or fully understanding themselves or others that come in the middle of darkness as it says in John 10:10 that kill and destroy the lives that we were called to live.
There are also systems in this world that want to steal and destroy our lives…to make us less than human, to distrust, live in fear or anger. These systems have voices, you hear them in media and from many politicians and persons who have power and/or wealth and want to protect their status. That’s been true throughout history really. But those voices of systems of the world diminish us.
We often recognize the voice of Jesus through others. Maybe we literally hear words from Jesus through others such as a speaker, or maybe even a preacher. Or maybe we recognize the voice of God through something we read, or a song we hear. Maybe it’s listening to our neighbors, finding their gifts, and partnering together for the common good like our after prom team last week. Or, maybe it’s seeing someone else practice charity through actions or giving themselves away.
We know it when we see it and hear it though, especially as we train our eyes and ears to see and recognize the true shepherd.
So, let’s listen to the voice of the Shepherd, let’s amplify Jesus’ voice over the old voices that are dying and trying to take us all down with them, let’s love each other well, and let’s play in the fields of the neighborhood around this church, as well as the neighborhoods in which we live in Cincinnati, and the world. Let’s work towards being the diverse, yet unified flock God’s marked us out to be…we can do this, we can believe in each other as my grandfather did with me and God does with us, trusting each other, loving each other, and growing in the ways that God intends in the process.
Taking yesterday’s sermon in a more conversational pace…
April 19, 2021
Jesus Appears to His Disciples
36 While they were talking about this, Jesus himself stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with you.” 37 They were startled and terrified, and thought that they were seeing a ghost. 38 He said to them, “Why are you frightened, and why do doubts arise in your hearts? 39 Look at my hands and my feet; see that it is I myself. Touch me and see; for a ghost does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have.” 40 And when he had said this, he showed them his hands and his feet. 41 While in their joy they were disbelieving and still wondering, he said to them, “Have you anything here to eat?” 42 They gave him a piece of broiled fish, 43 and he took it and ate in their presence.
44 Then he said to them, “These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you—that everything written about me in the law of Moses, the prophets, and the psalms must be fulfilled.” 45 Then he opened their minds to understand the scriptures, 46 and he said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Messiah is to suffer and to rise from the dead on the third day, 47 and that repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. 48 You are witnesses of these things.
A few years ago, I was walking through Over the Rhine here in Cincy with a friend of min, Adam Phillips. This was about the time when Over the Rhine was going through a huge transformation.
As we were walking, there was a man that was in front of us. He suddenly collapsed on the sidewalk. We rushed up to him along with another pedestrian. He was passed out and his breathing had stopped, or seemed like it. I called 911 immediately and within minutes there were fire personnel and a police officer there. And, so Cincinnati, I knew one of the firefighters. He was the dad of one of my cross country runners at the time.
The firefighters quickly gave him something as soon as they arrived as they quickly recognized what had happened. It was Narcan. The man had overdosed on heroin. Narcan, when administered quickly, can reverse the life threatening impact of a heroin overdose, I quickly found out.
The man jumped back to life. The police officer looked at him and told him he was lucky to be alive and that he should thank my friend and I. He looked at us, gave a weary smile to us. And, we were all on our way.
As a pastor, I have seen folks die, I have been with them. I have also been around folks in near death experiences. I’ve never seen someone, up until then, be that far gone and then come back that fast. I’m glad for him (and for us), but it was so surreal.
The disciples in our gospel passage this morning were in a place of disarray, disillusionment, disorientation, and distress. This is another gospel rendering of the disciples after Jesus’ resurrection. Similar to last week’s gospel reading in John, we find the disciples afraid and filled with doubt.
They had heard about Jesus’ resurrection, but didn’t know what to believe, or to dare to believe.
Jesus appears to them. Again, in Luke’s gospel as well as John’s, he great’s them with peace. Not just peace, as in the absence of conflict or dissonance, but a deeper peace that brings reconciliation, justice, and a blessing to have life as it was meant to be lived where there is a deeper power at work that enables one to engage the dissonance, the doubts, and to trust in a deeper Presence at work.
They thought they were seeing a ghost at first. It was a surreal experience that they were trying to find something to understand…it was sudden. Like the man and the experience that Adam and I came into contact with in OTR.
Jesus says in effect, you aren’t seeing a ghost, I’m no cadaver, I’m not a zombie. I’m real, I’m resurrected, I’m material that is tangible. Touch the scars, see them. They are still there, but I am healed. I am an embodied, resurrected human being. And, I’m hungry!
Jesus, went through the hell of the violence and humiliation of the cross, went through his own doubts and fears before the cross and on the cross, even crying out, “my God, my God, why have you forsaken me”, in effect, the worst doubt, doubting his very being!
Friends, I don’t know how this works, but Jesus is saying to the disciples, and to us, I am alive! There is a resurrected, embodied Jesus somewhere, and through the universal presence of Christ and the power of God’s Spirit, we are connected to this embodied, healed, and resurrected Jesus…and so is everyone else in this world!
This connection, as we recognize it, live in presence with God and others, will continue to open our hearts and minds to an expansive God and to a deeper understanding of God’s story!
And, God is up to something more expansive than we could have ever imagined. Our Elemental Leadership team meetings have been amazing. They have been listening, and hearing.
Well, since they don’t know, we have an opportunity to write a new story that is wrapped up into the expansive story of God. We have the opportunity to deliver to this neighborhood a church, a collection of folks called together, a community that is here for everyone and that is connected deeply to our neighborhood, as well as the larger context of the world.
Our gospel lesson and story in Acts give witness to a Jesus who has been preparing his disciples to be witnesses to the world of a new way of living, a way of radical love and inclusion, of meaning and purpose, of overcoming everything with him. Jesus is saying that he will deliver on his end, but he’s calling us to participate in what he’s doing and deliver with him. To be co-participants in building God’s kingdom now, not some promise of a distant future, but a promise of living in deep love for ourselves, others, and God now. That does take a change of heart, it calls for repentance as it says in Acts. As we’ve said before, repent in Greek is Metanoia, a changing of one’s mind.
As we grow and change, we have great conversation partners like ECI/Oasis, the schools, Tikkun Farm, Valley Interfaith, and other churches. Not only are they conversation partners, but they have been encouraging and building up communities for years. They are friends and want to be a part of this journey with us. I don’t know about you, but I’d much rather work towards something knowing that there are others with me. Friends, let’s do this! Let’s be this! Persons living in faithful presence with God and live in God’s peace, God’s shalom, with one another, and with our neighbors!
Video Podcast of Yesterday’s Sermon. April 12, 2021.
19 When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the
disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” 20 After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. 21 Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” 22 When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. 23 If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.”
24 But Thomas (who was called the Twin), one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. 25 So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord.” But he said to them, “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe.”
26 A week later his disciples were again in the house, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were shut, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” 27 Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe.” 28 Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!” 29 Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.”
30 Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book. 31 But these are written so that you may come to believethat Jesus is the Messiah,the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name.
A few years ago, our family went on a vacation to the beach. Our good friends, the Nicholas’, had hooked us up with a relative who had a condo near the beach in Florida. It was a great family trip. One day, we decided to go snorkeling at a nearby state park. It was so much fun. There was this huge lagoon that had all sorts of rocks around it to explore.
Now, one thing about me, I love to run, I love to rock climb, I love to fly fish (although, I haven’t done much of that recently), and I love to camp…I’m pretty adventurous. But, one thing I don’t do well is swim. I learned to fake it when I was a kid and it wasn’t until one of my best friends, in my twenties, Jay Borck, decided to teach me that I gained even just a bit of confidence. Jay was one of the few people who knew my secret, and he was so gracious and simply wanted to help me out.
It’s safe to say, you won’t see me competing in a triathlon soon…marathon, yes, triathlon, no.
Anyway, back to the family vacation. I was feeling confident that day and decided I could swim across the middle of the lagoon…I had a mask, a snorkel, and was floating pretty well along the sides. So, I ventured across…about 1/2 way, I started to panic. But, I was locked into the swim…it was deep, and I still had several yards to go to get to the other side. I couldn’t breathe, I panicked…but, I kept paddling. I didn’t drown, but it certainly scared the you know what out of me!
During this season of pandemic, maybe we have felt “locked in” or “locked out”, we need time to “breathe”, but feel like we can’t escape. It seems like oxygen, or breathing has been a theme this year for our culture. Covid affects our breathing, George Floyd’s gasping for air, moments of watching our political leaders seem lost and leading us nowhere, seeing our Asian brothers and sisters struggle…and, our lives personally filled with doubt, struggle, confusion.
Friends, these are indicators of grief, lament, as well as potential growth and change.
Our text this morning has a lot to do with moments like this, moments in our lives when we need to breathe, breathing that brings life, and not just any life…life that feels locked up or locked down and not going anywhere, lives that seem shut off from the world…we want life as it was meant to be lived…that has been true for humanity throughout our history.
Right after Jesus’ death on a Roman cross and resurrection from the dead. Jesus appears to his disciples. As we mentioned last week, it’s not every day that you see someone raised from the dead, they were disoriented, lost, so I imagine they were a bit overwhelmed, in shock, and wondering what was going to happen next.
The disciples are in a state of fear. They were locked in a room, afraid of the same folks who had just crucified Jesus and fearful that they would be after them as well. They were literally in a “stay at home” quarantine out of fear for their lives! They were in a self-imposed lockdown. They were wondering if there was a light at the end of the tunnel of fear that they were experiencing, the uncertainty was overwhelming, not sure what to think about what’s going to happen next. The room was shut, and probably the lives of those disciples were in a state of being shut down from fear. There was probably a war of emotions going on within them.
Into this room, this state of anxiety, Jesus appears and has the greeting “Peace to you”. The word “peace” in this context is a common word, but in this context, it meant the world to the disciples. They needed what Jesus was giving.
They had to be overwhelmed in seeing Jesus, but Jesus’ physical presence was also comforting. Our passage this morning says that they rejoiced and they were strengthened by having seen the Lord.
Jesus gives a charge to those disciples, an imperative command. Just as the Father had sent Jesus to the world, Jesus was now sending the disciples out from behind shut doors into a crazy world desperate for hope.
Then, something happens, Jesus breathed on them. Now, these days, we don’t want anyone breathing on us, do we?! But, Jesus has been “vaccinated” with resurrection hope and power…with relational flow in the relationship of the Godhead, the Trinity, which also includes us through the universal presence of Christ. This word “breathe” in this passage is the same word used in Genesis 2:7 where God breathes life into humanity, giving us life. Jesus is in effect saying that he is the Son of God, God in the flesh, giving life to the disciples. Jesus was not only bringing peace to the disciples, but breathing pure life into them. The verse goes on to say that Jesus gives another imperative, to receive the Holy Spirit. Jesus was breathing the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of God, God’s presence on to the disciples. The Holy Spirit, God’s Spirit, the unifying power of God would bring the disciples together, giving them confidence and power to overcome the world.
The word for “spirit” in Hebrew is the same word for breath and wind. Do you remember the strong winds that rocked our city a few years ago? Well, God’s Wind is stronger and blows everywhere, filling every space. It has been with us before time, before history, it was and is and will be…it exploded out from the Big Bang and is every expanding, finding residence in humanity and ultimately fully in Jesus, who then breathes it out either literally or metaphorically to the disciples and to the world.
The disciples needed to breathe in the breath of God. The breath of God that brings life and the power to forgive sins. Verse 23 in this passage can seem troublesome at first, does it mean that we can forgive others’ sins? No, it is an affirmation that if we receive the Holy Spirit and abide in Christ as Christ abides in us as stated in John 15:4, then the work of the Holy Spirit which brings the forgiveness bought by Jesus Christ’s actions on
the cross, is exhibited through us. It is the power of God at work within us as we recognize God through Jesus Christ.
In verse 24 of this passage, we see that one of the 12 disciples, Thomas, wasn’t around to see Jesus the first time he appeared in that room. 8 days later though, they are hanging out and Jesus appears. It’s interesting to note that these same disciples who had just been blessed by Jesus showing up and breathing on them are scared and locked up in that room again! Yet, Jesus breaks through the walls again…gives them a peace blessing and then addresses Thomas. Thomas wants more tangible evidence, so Jesus gives it to them. Jesus doesn’t want to shame Thomas, this passage isn’t here to give reference to Thomas’ unbelief, but it’s here to give hope to those who haven’t seen. The writer of this passage is giving a direct address to those reading in verse 31 that these things have been written for you…for us.
Friends, we may be living in fear, in anxiety. We may have just witnessed Jesus’ very resurrection in our lives…we may even have lived our lives in expectation of God’s faithfulness to us. Yet, here’s Jesus…appearing before us, walking through any barriers that we may be hiding behind. Calling us out of the four walls we’ve enclosed ourselves in…giving us himself, breathing new life into us, and calling us towards the next thing… a full life with him! Thomas and the rest of the disciples were living in fear, in disappointment. They were tired. Yet Jesus came to them, and comes to us…he invites us to know his scars, to touch the pain that has been inflicted upon him…to believe that he is God and is here with us now. Friends, with this belief, with this faith, we can change the world…even if we are in a state of pandemic…God’s Spirit will flow through even the thickest of walls we build!